If you really get down to it, besides the obvious financial gains, 90 percent of sequels have no reason for existing — and as I sit here and think about it, I might be feeling a bit generous in this regard, too. This is especially, unarguably true about Dolphin Tale 2. And not just because if it had never been made I wouldn’t have had to sit through it, but because who the hell was clamoring for a sequel to Dolphin Tale (2011)? The thing didn’t even make that much money, but here’s part two, a lasting monument to bad decisions and wastes of time and money.
Dolphin Tale 2 picks up a few years after its predecessor, with the Clearwater Marine Hospital becoming a full-blown tourist attraction thanks to Winter the dolphin and her prosthetic tail, which was at the center of the first movie. With this new fame comes a whole host of problems, from investors who have only the hospital’s bottom line in mind, to head vet Clay (Harry Connick, Jr.) trying to keep the welfare of the animals in focus. All of this is compounded by the death of Panama, Winter’s surrogate mother, which pushes Winter into a deep depression and sends the hospital scrambling to find her a new companion.
This isn’t just a movie about dolphin depression (possibly the first such account in the history of cinema, a monumental achievement), it’s also about familial angst. Clay is constantly struggling with his daughter, Hazel, and her friend Sawyer (Cozi Zuehlsdorff and Nathan Gamble, respectively, who now have this movie to thank for fully documenting their awkward, early teen years). They help him run the hospital, but want to have a bigger voice in Winter’s future. Regardless, it’s all pretty dramatically listless, since this is the type of family-friendly affair that’s not going to head towards any truly dark places. If it weren’t for the five-minute Morgan Freeman cameo, Dolphin Tale 2 would’ve made its premiere on basic cable. Honestly, even with Freeman, it’s still Movie of the Week material with a higher budget. Obviously, this sort of thing is probably fine for young kids, with its cute animals and low stakes. But that doesn’t change Dolphin Tale 2 from being dull and — at 107 minutes — overlong pap. Yeah, it’s harmless, but that harmlessness, in turn, makes the movie unabashedly mawkish and tedious. Rated PG for some mild thematic elements.